Emotion is such an ugly emotion

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 22, 2006



That leaky sound you heard coming out of the northeast corner of the country this week was Patriots Nation pissing blood in an apoplectic fit of remorse, anguish and betrayal.
           
Adam Vinatieri, whose pump-fisted photo following yet another game-winning kick is stuck on bedroom walls and etched into memories all over New England, is now with another team ... the arch-rival Indianapolis Colts, no less.
           
It's a humiliating kick in the collective crotch of Patriots fans. But, like all impassioned sports junkies, the reaction of Patriots fans has been exacerbated by the Cold, Hard Football Facts' own arch-nemesis: that tingly tangle of synapses we know as "emotion."
           
Emotion is quite cute, actually. We like it when fans get all fired up. Emotion is neat. Emotion is nifty. Emotion always sounds great at the gymnasium pep rally.
           
"Adam, Adam, he's our man. If he can't do it ... no one can!"
           
But sorry, folks. Emotion may carry the TinyTown Titans to victory Friday night. But it does not win games in the cold, calculating world of NFL football.
           
We're here to collect the puss-filled emotional residue of Patriots Nation with an antiseptic catheter tube of passionless reason called the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
           
Now turn your head and cough.
 
No kicker is worth $2.5 million a year.
Not one.
           
Yes, we know, New England fans, that Vinatieri helped you win three Super Bowls. We know he authored the greatest and most poetic kick in NFL history – a do-or-die snowy roller through a near-blinding blizzard. We know he's perhaps the greatest clutch kicker in the history of the game. We know he'll probably be the second kicker inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's an honor he deserves even if he never plays another game.
           
He's still not worth $2.5 million a year and a $3.5 million signing bonus – the numbers Indy is reported to have ponied up for him.
           
Here's why: No matter how successful a kicker has been, he remains a marginal, part-time role player who spends less time on the field than any other man on the roster. The towel boy sees more action than a potential Hall of Fame kicker.
  • Last year, New England played 2,315 snaps.*
  • Vinatieri was on the field for just 66 of those 2,315 snaps (2.9 percent).
  • Forty-one of those 66 snaps were extra points – plays so routine that many high school kickers automatically hit them.
  • Put another way, Vinatieri stepped on the field for 1 of every 35 snaps.
Given this scenario – and it's not unique, since all kickers participate in only a handful of snaps each season – it's hard to justify giving more than 2 percent of your salary cap allotment to a guy who steps on the field four times a week and then kicks off a couple times a game.
 
A right guard who makes $1.5 million per year might participate in 900 or 1,000 snaps over the course of the season. A kicker participates in 60 or 70. It's unreasonable to pay twice as much for a 60-play-a-year man than you would for a 1,000-play-a-year man – no matter how many great, emotional memories you may have of that 60-play-a-year guy.
 
Yes, we realize that kickers play a uniquely pivotal role in the course of a game – often marching onto the field at key moments to provide the last-second margin of victory or defeat. These dramatic moments make all the highlight shows. These moments also help fuel our arch-enemy, emotion.
 
The truth is that these few emotion-filled moments are no more important than the mundane contributions of the right guard who has 1,000 opportunities over the course of the season to affect the outcome of a play.
 
New England management understands that, in the ultimate team game, a guy who steps on the field once every 35 plays merits only so much money. And it's somewhere below $2.5 million per year with a $3.5 million signing bonus.
 
* 1,031 offensive plays, 997 defensive plays, 76 punts, 81 opponent punts, 66 placekicks, 64 opponent placekicks
 
It's irrational to overpay for any player in the salary cap world.
Put most simply, fans and team management get emotional and starry-eyed over BIG NAMES. Hey, we just signed BIG NAME KICKER for $2.5 million per year.
 
Yippee!
           
What people don't realize – or choose to ignore – is that in the salary-cap NFL, every BIG NAME at the top of the roster comes with a serious, unseen and unreported price somewhere down at the other end of the roster.
  • Every dollar that goes into one player's pocket comes out of the pocket of another player.
  • When you're overpaying for one player, you are – absolutely and unequivocally – underpaying for one or more players down at the bottom of the roster.
Teams such as New England and Pittsburgh instinctively seem to understand this. They refuse to overpay for top talent. As a result, they often lose their big-name free agents. They often suffer a firestorm of critcism in the process. But they're also more likely to have stronger top-to-bottom rosters. Not so coincidentally, New England and Pittsburgh have won four of the past five Super Bowls and have been the NFL's most dominant powers in the salary-cap era.
 
Here's an example to consider. Team A signs BIG NAME CORNERBACK for $10 million a year. The signing has some routine repercussions:
  1. The "pundits" cheer: "Now there's a team that really wants to win," they write.
  2. Fans ruled by emotion get all fired up for the upcoming season. "Hey, we just signed BIG NAME CORNERBACK! Now we're going to win." Then they run out and buy a jersey with BIG NAME CORNERBACK's name and number on it.
  3. Management holds up the signing as proof that they're doing everything they can to win. "Hey, we just broke the bank to sign BIG NAME CORNERBACK!"
Management is vindicated when BIG NAME CORNERBACK picks off 10 passes. But the team goes 4-12 and everyone wonders what went wrong. Well, here's what went wrong: Team A didn't just sign BIG NAME CORNERBACK amid a wave of fan and media approval. It also quietly filled its roster with a bunch of stiffs.
 
That $10 million salary robbed the team of maybe 10 players who won't generate a lot of headlines. Instead of paying a decent cornerback $2 million and spending $8 million on 10 solid contributors, Team A must scramble through the NFL scrapheap and find a bunch of cheap, ineffective players to work for minimum money.
           
Team A didn't improve its roster when it overpaid for BIG NAME CORNERBACK. It destroyed its roster.
           
Vinatieri told New England to screw.
New England made several good-faith offers to Vinatieri over the years. He's been one of the highest-paid kickers in the league for many seasons and would have remained one of the highest-paid kickers in the league had he stayed with New England.
 
In fact, the Patriots were already paying too much for him, considering a kicker's infrequent contributions – 1 of every 35 plays – to team success. The Patriots had already upset their formula and essentially rewarded Vinatieri for his contributions to the birth of a dynasty. He was already paid far more than a kicker is generally worth.
 
New England, in other words, had already made exceptions to its formula to keep Vinatieri.
           
The kicker responded with a big, fat middle finger on his way out of town.
 
According to most reports, Indy will pay Vinatieri a $3.5 million signing bonus and $2.5 million per year. Considering the salary and endorsement deals Vinatieri had been getting in New England, the difference in pay will be negligible at best.
 
But being an extremely well-paid kicker on a rare NFL dynasty wasn't good enough for Vinatieri. He wanted to be the highest-paid kicker in football. More power to him. We're devout capitalists, too.
 
But it doesn't change the fact that he told New England and its fans to shove it when he opted to sign for marginally more money with the team's most hated rival.
 
The Colts are determined to destroy their roster.
We've already seen the disastrous effect doling out top dollar for BIG NAME PLAYER can have on your roster. The Colts have now tied up more than 30 percent of their salary cap in just four players: a quarterback, two receivers and a kicker.
           
The salary-cap numbers for Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison vary according to different reports. And the Colts have been in arbitration over these contracts as they attempt to massage the numbers and minimize the hit this season. But it seems certain that these three players, along with Vinatieri, will eat up more than $30 million of $104 million in cap space in 2006.
           
Given the fact that each dollar that goes into the pocket of a big-name player comes out of the pocket of a lesser-known player, it's clear that Indy management has done serious damage to its team.
 
Four Colts will gorge themselves on more than $30 million this year. Forty-nine players are then left to divide about $70 million in salary-cap scraps.
           
The Colts will probably rack up plenty of points and passing records again this season. And, again this season, their kicker will be one of the leading scorers in the NFL. But we've seen this movie quite a few times over the past eight years. We know how it ends. Indy management seems determined to watch it one more time.
 
Vinatieri has already delivered a lifetime of magic.
Emotion rears its ugly, puss-filled head when Patriots fans think back to that magical 2001 season when, in the span of three weeks, Vinatieri kicked three of the most memorable field goals in NFL annals: two blizzard kicks and the first walk-off score in Super Bowl history.
 
Two years later, he had another remarkable postseason run. His frosty 46-yarder provided the winning margin in a 17-14 victory over Tennessee during the coldest game in franchise history. A week later, he tied an NFL playoff record with five field goals in a 24-14 win over Indy. Then he capped another Super Bowl with another last-second, game-winning field goal.
 
Just for kicks and giggles, he provided the winning margin in yet another big game, a 24-21 win over Philly in Super Bowl XXXIX.
 
Listen, folks: Vinatieri has already been touched by the hands of the Football Gods more than any other kicker in NFL history. What more do you want from him? The odds that these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are going to present themselves to Vinatieri a fourth or fifth time are slim and none. He's already delivered.
 
And now, he's moved on ... with no remorse and no emotion.
 
Patriots fans should do the same.

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